SEATTLE – Last fall a doctor with the U.K.-based non-profit Help Refugees, noted a simple, but dire fact: the refugees on the Greek Island of Lesvos could not get dry because of constant, freezing rain. “There are thousands of children here and their feet are literally rotting, they can’t keep dry, they have high fevers and they’re standing in the pouring rain for days on end,” he wrote in a message. “You have one month guys, and then all these people will be dead.”
In all the stories and images of devastation and despair, it was this sobering call for help that shifted the people at the U.S.-based non-profit Together Rising into high gear. “That was when we knew that we needed to move beyond our initial outreach to provide more sustained, substantial help,” said Amy Olrick, director of Together Rising in an email. “We could not wait for someone else to act. We would have to be the actors, and bring our communities with us.”
For Together Rising, which was founded by Glennon Doyle Melton, writer of the book Love Warrior and the blog Momastery, bringing their communities with them meant not only Melton’s followers and fans, but those of her writer friends as well.
In December, a group of well-known authors got together to form The Compassion Collective with the goal of raising $1 million to feed, clothe, shelter and save Syrian refugees. Within 31 hours of launching the online campaign, which accepted donations no higher than $25 each, the group had reached their goal. By the end of 2015, 41,000 people had donated and the group had collected $1.3 million. “I was amazed,” said Melton in an email interview with The Borgen Project. “The goodness of people never stops amazing me.”
Along with Melton, the group is made up of Cheryl Strayed, best-known for her book Wild, which was made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon; Elizabeth Gilbert, best-known for her book Eat, Pray, Love, which was also made into a movie; Rob Bell, author of numerous books including his most recent How To Be Here; and research professor Brené Brown, author of Rising Strong.
Through outreach to fans and followers on social media, the writers used their impressive collective talent with words to rally supporters. “We have a plan,” the group’s website states. “You are a part of it. Today’s refugee crisis is the worst humanitarian emergency the world has seen since World War II. Just as the Greatest Generation’s response to the holocaust defined them, so will our response define us.
“We want to be remembered as the generation that chose Love over Fear.”
Melton has experience with raising money to help others. Together Rising grew out of the community she built on Momastery. The non-profit raises money through small donations to support and assist (mostly) women who have nowhere else to turn.
In 2014, for example, the organization’s website says it gave money to a single mom of two boys who lost her 35 year-old husband to leukemia/lymphoma and to a family who was struggling to make ends meet after the father sustained an injury and the mother had been unable to find a job, along with many others.
The scope of The Compassion Collective took this impulse to a whole new level. By early February, Melton was able to report back to donors on how the money raised in December was spent.
In a blog post on Momastery, she wrote: “With your gifts, we’re responding by providing funding and supplies for new medical facilities on Lesvos, including a portable hospital tent that can be quickly set up at the sites where it is most needed. We are also providing rescue equipment, heaters and supplies to aid organizations on the Greek Islands, funding their work to save people from the freezing waters.”
Other projects include the opening of multiple food kitchens across the Greek Islands, blankets, sleeping bags and tents throughout Greece, Macedonia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Serbia and wood-framed shelters in refugee camps in France.
Melton told The Borgen Project that it was important to keep the donations capped at $25 so that people could not discount the value of a small gift. “They know that nobody is allowed to come in and financially save the day – so the only way the fundraiser will succeed is if thousands of people believe that their small gifts – added together – will add up to our goal.”
She says this is a model for giving that should be used more often. “There is a shift needed in the fundraising world from: giving is for the receivers to: giving is for the givers,” she says, “We are trying to show people what happens to their hearts and sense of agency when they become givers.”
Melton says that this type of grassroots effort “gets thousands in the giving game who wouldn’t have otherwise considered themselves players.” When giving happens everyone benefits, and right now the world could surely use some more of that.
– Stacey Schultz